Thursday, September 3, 2015

FHB Rundown (Part 1)

Tuesdays are tough days for posting, just because of my schedule; however, I did catch up on a lot of my (blog) reading...which for me includes traipsing around the "outskirts" of the OSR blogging community. And O my, what's lurking around out in "the Outer Dark." I came back with not one, not two, not three, but four...yes, four!...fantasy heartbreakers. Or what I like to call, entries into the arena of D&D Mine. All were published after 2012, so I feel safe in categorizing them as such (i.e. post-announcement of "D&D Next") regardless of when their authors initiated the work on 'em. The point is, 5E was on the horizon and the creators of these games didn't care. I appreciate that.

So, I've spent the last couple days reading and I thought I'd try something a little different and talk about 'em all. Call these mini-reviews, though mainly it'll just be my first pass impressions/thoughts on the things. All of them are available for free or Pay What You Want, so it's easy enough for people to pick them up if something strikes their interest.

Let's jump right in.

First up is Fantasy Heroes & Witchery Retro-RPG (Version 2.0) by Dominique Crouzet, copyright 2012/14. The free version omits most of the Table of Contents and Spell Index. There's been quite a bit written about FH&W around the web so I won't spend too much time on it, especially as this was my least favorite book of the four I checked out. It is an absolutely huge tome: 425 pages. The work itself is a hodgepodge of multiple editions of D&D, including 1st and 2nd Edition, B/X, 3E, and 5E. There is no bestiary of monsters, nor list of magic items, the game takes pains to remain "backwardly compatible" with earlier editions and suggests picking up your favorite Monster Manual or retro-clone for this type of info. It is more "kitchen sink" than any game I've seen, with one exception, yet it doesn't appear to have any concrete setting, other than what is implied by the classes, and alignment cosmology. Instead it's like a generic FAG with a D&D-ish chassis.

I don't see much here that's new, just a mash-up of various tastes. In fact, it looks about the way I expected 5E to look. Pretty though: much of the art is good, especially the Jim Holloway pieces.

Next, we have For Gold & Glory (Old School Roleplaying) by Justen Brown, copyright 2014. FG&G is a retro-clone of 2nd Edition AD&D. It is NOT very pretty to look at: much of the art is of the "cheap" variety (there are no illustrators credited, and appears the illustrations may be hand-drawn by the author and his buddies), and there are lots of blank spaces that appear were reserved for art that never materialized. At a whopping 374 pages, it is the second biggest FHB on my list, so we're talking a lot of ugly. I point this out because there are more than a few people that are put off by poor presentation, and here it is noteworthy. Having said that...

No Elmore/Easley Art
Looking back over the blog, the only times I've devoted any real time to 2E is to talk about how terrible it is, how much I dislike it, all the things wrong with it, etc. Yeah, things go to the dark side pretty quickly 'round these parts. Here's what I haven't told you:

I stopped playing Dungeons & Dragons circa 1987...a couple years before Second Edition hit the market. Around 1997 (ten years later), I decided I wanted to get back into the game and I picked up all the core 2E books from the local shop. Despite the changes from 1st edition that (years later) I would come to loathe, when I first opened the books I felt goddamn delight. All those little blue bars, succinct rules and clean organization, full color art plates and a consistent feel and layout throughout the entirety of the system. It kindled not just joy in me, but a newfound excitement. My 1st Edition books had long ago become nothing more than a tool for this day, I require no index to find the most obscure passage in the PHB and DMG because I've reread them so many times and know where to turn to by heart. Reading the Second Edition books reignited a sense of fantasy in me, a sense of possibility that hadn't been there for a long time...a chance to start over, fresh, with something of real quality. Nearly 20 years later, I am O-So-Quick to point out the missteps I feel "Zeb" Cook took when it came to certain design choices in the game, but that wasn't my original feelings on 2E...the slight pangs of "missing pieces" from 1E were secondary to the overall product held in my hands. And while I won't say I regret my decision to chuck all my 2E books a few years later (because I'd grown tired of its clinical, PC-ish, "high fantasy" sensibilities...not to mention my preference for earlier editions), it would be unfair of me to say I never enjoyed that edition. One of my most memorable...and games as a player was using the 2nd Edition rules.

I say this because, as I scrolled through Justen's retro-clone of 2E I felt the same sense of interest and excitement that I did the first time I read through the 2E PHB. Those same feelings again bubbled to the surface: a "new" type of D&D, still recognizable with its core (1E) roots, but with a fresh take on system. For Gold & Glory is very much 2nd Edition AD&D; other than the mandatory IP changes ("Gazers" instead of Beholders, for example) everything should be pretty familiar to the veteran 2E players, right down to Warriors, Wizards, and Priests (Hey! Specialist Mages! Remember those? I want an Evoker!). Some changes are notable, though: gone is the old 2E system of class-specific XP; found are demons and devils in the monster section. And there's also an assassin available for hire as a specialist that I don't recall in my 2E books...but I might be misremembering that.

If you want 2E in one, complete tome (kind of like Pathfinder for 3E...except with monsters) then For Gold & Glory might be your (ugly) bag.

Seven Voyages of Zylarthen by Oakes Spaulding (copyright 2014) is the next entry on my list...but I see this is another post I'm going to need to turn into a "two-parter."

[to be continued]


  1. Assassins-for-hire are on p106 of the AD&D2 DMG.

  2. I don't remember if you ever looked at Adventures Dark and Deep by Joseph Bloch.
    He calls it second edition the way Gary would have done it. And it came out after 5th ed was announced.

    1. @ Lloyd:

      I haven't looked at/read Bloch's game, though I'm familiar with it and it's concept. My understanding is that Adventures Dark & Deep is a bit more akin to AD&D 1.5 with cues taken from Gygax's musings/statements than a true 2E retro-clone.

      [not sure if your comment is with regard to my mini-review of FG&G, or just a "hey-check-it-out" type message]

    2. Little of both. Adventures Dark and Deep is a pretty book, and Joseph researched what Gygax was writing at the time to try to come up with a Gygaxian second ed., but it's not a 2E retro-clone.

    3. @ Lloyd:

      Perhaps I'll get to it one of these days. There are a LOT of retro-clones and FHBs out there (If I want to go the road of reviewing them all). These four were interesting to me because, before Tuesday, I hadn't heard of ANY of them.

      Mmmm...except maybe FH&W (over at the OtherSide blog).

    4. Of the 4, I've got FH&W but haven't heard of the others.
      The author of FH&W is listed as a contributer / co -author with the RPG Pundit on his new RPG Dark Albion